WALES: Leaders quizzed on second home problem during election debate

  Posted: 22.04.21 at 14:32 by Gareth Williams

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The leaders of Wales’ three main parties were quizzed on the issue of second homes during a lively debate on Sunday.

An issue which has dominated political debate in rural Wales over recent months, there have long been calls for stricter measures to stem the snapping up of houses from the general market for use as second homes.

With second homes said to be making up over 10% of Gwynedd’s housing stock – with fears that this figure is continuing to rise – the Welsh Government permits local authorities to charge up to a 100% premium on the council tax bills of second home owners.

But concerns remain that the current regulations are too easy to circumnavigate and often result in their owners being able to avoid paying any local taxes at all.

The hour-long ITV Wales debate saw Mark Drakeford of Labour, Andrew RT Davies of the Conservatives and Adam Price of Plaid Cymru quizzed on a variety of issues ahead of the May 6 election.

But one of particular pertinence to many in coastal and rural Wales was one by Seren Williams of Pwllheli, who asked what the leaders would do about second home owners pricing out locals and young people.

The Labour manifesto proposes to build thousands of new low-carbon, affordable homes for rent, creating thousands of new jobs.

Quizzed on the issue, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We do need to strengthen the level of protection that people in those communities have, and I was recently able to meet a group of young people with Sian Gwenllian to hear directly from them.

“There are local taxation issues that we can use; there are planning issues that we can use and there is a way in which it may be possible in future to reserve properties that go on sale in local area, in the first instance, for local people to be able to make an offer for them.

“It’s not easy - it's complicated, which is why I’ve set up a unit in the Welsh Government to make sure that after the election, whoever is First Minister, there will be a package of measures ready to go to tackle the issues that Seren identified.”

The Conservatives, meanwhile, propose to build 100,000 houses over the next decade, including 40,000 social homes with all new properties being carbon neutral by 2026.

Their leader, Andrew RT Davies, said: “There’s three things that need to be done, the first is housing supply.

“Regrettably, under Labour we’ve only been building about 5,500-6,000 per annum when the market requires 10,000-12,000 homes, so you’re starving the market of houses.

“That’s why we’ve got a policy to build 100,000 homes over the next 10 years. It’s really important that you devolve responsibility to councils so they can control the planning and housing situation in their own market. We’d have a planning bill.

“Thirdly it's really important to have quality jobs in the local economy so that people can earn decent wages and afford the homes in the first place.”

Plaid, meanwhile, says it will launch “the most ambitious public homes programme since the 1970s”, creating 50,000 “genuinely affordable homes” to rent and buy over the next five years, while using planning and taxation powers to tackle the second-homes crisis.

Its leader, Adam Price, said: “Young people are being absolutely priced out of our communities in so many parts of Wales, and it's unacceptable.

“We’ve presented an action plan which we will implement immediately, which includes increasing the level of council tax on second homes to 200% and changing planning laws so you can have an absolute cap on the number of second homes in areas - and also have rules limiting the change of use.

“Also, critically, bringing back some of those second homes under local ownership so they can be made available for young people to rent and to buy and an ambitious programme to deliver over the next five years 50,000 genuinely affordable homes.”

The leaders were also quizzed on their individual house building proposals, with Mr Davies stating that idle or long-term empty homes were also an issue.

Mr Drakeford dismissed claims that his party’s ambitions weren't aiming high enough, adding that the opposition proposals were “pie in the sky and back of the envelope calculations,” noting that Labour’s 20,000 genuine social homes target was “a greater ambition than any previous Senedd term.”

“We know we have the money and have the plan,” he concluded.

But Mr Price questioned Labour’s ambition, adding “What’s pie in the sky is setting such a low bar of ambition. We have 67,000 families on a housing waiting list. How is it sufficient to build 20,000 social homes?

“We have historically low-interest rates. Now’s the time to build the future of Wales and house those families that have been homeless for too long.”

Andrew RT Davies,said: “Labour have been in Government for 22 years. How can we believe you’ll deliver anything in this manifesto?

“If you don’t give the housing market the ability to build, you’ll never satisfy that, and inflationary pressures will exclude many young people from that market.”

The debate can be viewed in full at: here

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